Toronto Film Scene’s Katarina Gligorijevic talks to Noah Cowan, Artistic Director of TIFF Bell Lightbox, about the newest dimension of film experience the festival is offering Toronto with its new year-round home.
Most people are used to experiencing cinema in a theatre space, but not necessarily as a gallery exhibit, a lecture, and so on. The TIFF Bell Lightbox approach seems to be much more immersive. How do you think this multi-media approach is going to change and enhance the audience’s relationship to not only the titles you screen, but cinema in general?
Film’s role in peoples’ lives has changed in interesting ways over the last few decades. The compulsive social experience of constant in-cinema film watching has given way to a more multi-tiered relationship with cinema as a medium – frequent film watching is still important but we also revisit films or do preparatory film watching on TVs, DVDs with extras, computers and mobile devices. This makes film more like paintings and sculptures which have a long history of representations that vector people into museum environments. Simultaneously the “stuff” of film – props, scripts and other writings, photographs, maquettes – has taken on the flavor of near-art objects, the cartoons, sketches and conceptual commentary around on-screen works of art. I think we aren’t actually leading the way but rather acknowledging and making explicit a change in status for cinema and its things. A large swath of the public already engages in immersive behavior in cinema; we are just enabling it in a more structured environment.
Tell me a bit more about the commissioned works that will be premiering. How did you select the participating artists, and how collaborative was the process in terms of determining the concepts for the commissioned works? Were they each inspired by specific titles from the Essential 100 or did some of them discover works they weren’t necessarily already familiar with as part of this project?
Each commission took a very different form. We approached Guy and Atom directly to develop projects for the series about the idea of an Essential Cinema list. They are among the most prominent filmmakers who think about expanded cinema. Guy has experimented with installation and performative expansions of his work; Atom has focused on a kind of alternation between feature “novels” and installation “short stories” around the themes that have dominated his career. I think their commissions for us reflect those trends and the core of their practice as filmmakers. Guy’s work questions the idea of a canon by positing great unmade or unseen films by great masters; Atom delves into the idea of audience creating meaning in cinema through ideas of voyeurism and violation of supposedly sacred space. The process of working with both men was exhilarating. They really probed the meaning of what we were doing in the show and felt a great sense of urgency about making work that championed the idea of cinema. The other two commissions – a sound work by James Andean and Francois Saint-Pierre and a moving images collage work by Barr Gilmore – were proposals to us by friends whose work we admire. They wanted to isolate ideas about the list and how it imparts value through, respectively, specific sound elements and graphic treatments.
Speaking of the commissioned pieces – they’re all world premieres. Are there any plans to send these works to other cinematheques or film institutes, perhaps as part of an organized TIFF Bell Lightbox Essential Cinema tour?
That would be great. Guy’s work is actually going to be part of a larger “magnum opus” currently being called “The Keyhole Project” that involves a feature film, these fragments and collage work. That will likely have a rather long and robust life. Atom’s work is quite site specific to our Theatre #4 but could certainly be adapted. The other two commissions I think are pretty fantastic works for other film organizations to profile and I hope they do.
Give me two “must see or experience” recommendations in the Essential Cinema Exhibition – one for a novice or entry-level film fan, and one for a dedicated and experienced cinephile.
For the artifacts, I have a few – my head exploded when I encountered a series of photographs from the making of Alain Resnais’s “Nuit et brouillard”. They document the building of dolly tracks that parallel the railroad tracks that brought the victims of Auschwitz to their doom. They underline so strongly the intertwined worlds of cinema and historical representation. The collection of material related to Vertigo, in an exhibit created especially for us by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, is a revelation too. It’s not actually my favorite Hitchcock film but the exhibit really reveals the complex aesthetic decisions he made and how he so effectively deployed them; it turned me around on the film. And of course all three art works in the wunderkammer are must-sees: Martin Arnold’s Jeanne , Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro and Michael Snow’s rarely seen Slidelength are among the most visceral and intellectually satisfying representations of cinema iconography around.
The Future Projections program has come a long way since it was started (in 2006, I believe?). Tell me a bit more about it – what’s it about (for the layman) and what’s your curatorial vision for it going forward.
Great question. This year feels a bit like a necessary detour. It was with some reluctance that we abandoned the idea of showcasing only new work that had a dynamic relationship with cinema for 2010. But the opening of the building necessitated a kind of re-evaluation and restatement of principles for the programme. It’s almost like we needed to test our initial assumptions, that this increasingly intense relationship between the history and culture of cinema on one hand, and an important influential group of visual artists on the other, was deep enough to merit sustained curatorial activity and institutional support. In the process of researching and developing this show, I think we were somewhat surprised by how incredibly congruent our curatorial thinking around film in the gallery was with the recent history of moving image installation art. That has inspired us to think about ongoing commissioning programmes throughout the year at TIFF Bell Lightbox and to maintain and grow Future Projections during the Festival.